Monday, 23 June 2014

ISIS: Britain's Lethal Embrace of Qatar and the Threat of Blowback

'Why Cameron should want to elevate, indeed almost romanticise, that menace is a mystery. The only security against this violence is from policing and from targeted intelligence. The only security against this violence is from policing and from targeted intelligence'-Simon Jenkins, Isis is no Threat to Britain, The Guardian, 22nd June 2014.
The reason both Cameron and Fox want to ramp up the threat of ISIS as one that could be directed against Britain is that the British government has backed Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar in their geopolitical struggle and use of Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq against Iran and its allies in Syria and Iraq.

There is a need, therefore, to pretend that ISIS is simply another 'more extreme' version of Al Qaida, another evil which has arisen as though out of the void caused by the collapse of authority in Iraq which is blamed almost wholly on Maliki in Baghdad ruling in a sectarian way.

Yet the fear is one of 'blowback' from Syria and the possibility both northern Syria and Iraq could become similar to Afghanistan, another land where Sunni jihadists backed primarily by Britain and America's Gulf allies gained a foothold and that ended up creating Al Qaida.

While Saudi Arabia has backed off from supporting Sunni jihadists such as Al Nusra, because of a certain amount of pressure from Washington, Kuwait has continued as a source of funding and Qatar made in plain in March 2014 that it would continue to back the toughest Sunni jihadists in Syria.

Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said in a speech in Paris "The independence of Qatar's foreign policy is simply non-negotiable...Qatar is to take decisions, and follow a path, of its own." Backing Sunni jihadists is considered essential to advancing its regional interests.

Removing Assad is considered crucial in order to advance the prospect of building a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would pump Qatari gas towards lucrative EU markets and enable it to avoid having to depend on exporting LNG via the Iranian controlled Straits of Harmuz in the Persian Gulf.

Britain is a key backer of Qatar and unwilling to criticise Qatar's regional ambitions because as North Sea gas has depleted, the importance of imported Qatari LNG has become vital. In 2011 it was reported that it provided all but two cargoes of the product shipped to the UK.

Hague's obsession that 'Assad must go' is connected to energy security and backing Qatar no matter the potential threat of jihadist blowback. Britain is overdependent upon gas from Qatar but Russia, the only power that has more of the globe's gas than Qatar, is regarded as as a threat to its interests.

Russia, of course, has backed Assad and gained a foothold in exploiting the Levant Basin, a field of offshore oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Yet Russia also, through the annexation of Crimea and the advance of pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine, could control energy flows in the Black sea region.

As Russia exerts greater influence over regions considered strategically vital for the flow of oil and gas into the EU, Britain has shown readiness to court favour in Doha. Qatar owns 20% of the London Stock Exchange, invests 10bn pounds annually in the UK and has helped shore up London's property boom.

Britain is increasingly overdependent upon Qatar to prop up its ailing rentier economy and provide it with up to 90% of its LNG which, in turn, provides around a quarter of the UK's gas supply and 59.3 % of the total gas supplied to British homes. Britain's economic recovery after the financial crash of 2008 depends heavily on Qatar.

Britain, therefore, backed Qatar in its proxy war against Iran in Syria after 2011 so as to forestall the possibility of the Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline that would transport gas from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea in order to supply Europe and that could bypass Turkey and sink Qatar's proposed alternative.

The consequence of this brutal geopolitical proxy conflict is that is has opened up space for ISIS to operate no matter that Britain and the US is trying to use its intelligence services to redirect assistance to Sunni jihadists it can control in order to contain those that could pose the threat of blowback.

This 21st century will see greater conflicts over access to oil and gas in a world of increased demand and competition caused by global industrialisation and high octane consumerism, one described by the American academic and writer Michael Klare in his aptly titled Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. 

It is in preparation for those resource conflicts and the threat of terrorist blowback that politicians such as Liam Fox argue for increased levels of state surveillance over 'extremists' in our midst and, by implication, over the entire populace in Britain as part of a messianic 'ideological battle' that is set to 'go on for a long time'


How Dependent is Britain upon Qatar ? 

It is possible to argue that  LNG is not a particulary predominant section of Britain's energy portfolio and that is is not 'dependent' upon Qatar. While it's true that domestic production of gas and Norwegian supplies made up the bulk of it in 2013, this is not the entire story.

Britain's North Sea gas is rapidly depleting and Russia is held to pose a threat to the energy interests of other EU nations and the expansion of NATO power, something evident in Rasmussen's attempt to claim that anti-fracking activists were being funded by Moscow.

The only reason why demand for more LNG declined in 2013 was the mild winter which allowed stocks not to be used up, which is fortunate as LNG is becoming more expensive due to high Asian demand, especially from Japan in the wake of the Fukashima nuclear power plant disaster.

LNG is a crucial component of Britain's domestic gas market and the need for politicians to keep prices lower rather than higher accounts for the interest in a Qatar-Turkey pipeline which would run via Syria and prevent gas having to get to Europe via tanker on the Straits of Hormuz.

Support for Qatar and opening London to its lucrative investments is one reason why Qatar is prepared to divert LNG supplies west even when the price does not fall so much in Asia as as would justify that on the profits it could have otherwise made from its sale in the east.

The boost to Britain's economy provided by Qatari capital from gas exports should not be underestimated. In February 2014 it was reported that Qatar was going to boost investment in Barclays Plc
(BARC) and J Sainsbury Plc after aquiring stakes in both.

Ahmad Al-Sayed, chief executive officer of the sovereign wealth fund,claimed, on visiting London, "Britain is one of the main destinations for investment...You’ve great systems, great regulations. We’re happy to invest more when the opportunity is coming.”

The UK is the main destination in Europe for Qatari investments, amounting to $33.8 billion. By any standards, that's a huge amount and its a prime driver of London's property market boom which is blamed for creating the 'wrong kind of growth' and a bubble economy.

Britain has depended upon Qatar to assist in getting it out of the economic recession caused by the finacial crash of 2008 and out of austerity in readiness for the 2015 elections. It is prepared to invest in infrastructure projects from nuclear reactors to London's sewers.

The cost of that dependence is that Britain, led as a 'Global Player' by Cameron and Hague, is support for its foreign policy in Syria no matter the potential consequences of terrorist blowback, as part of the 'warm bilateral relationship' both countrties

LNG is not the only reason why Britain is so beholden to Qatar but is important along with its huge investments and large market for British weapons and military assistance which even led in April 2014 to plans for the UK to have a military base in the region.

As Defence Minister Phillip Hammond put it,
"The UK and Qatar enjoy a very strong and multi-faceted bilateral relationship, which embraces defence and security issues, trade and investments, and is getting stronger all the time. We are building the momentum to strengthen the relationship and we are conscious of the need to sustain that momentum,"

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